CCMB study of Tibetans shows blood parameters alter when people change their altitude

V Rishi Kumar Hyderabad | Updated on July 01, 2021

Tibetan migrants in Karnataka have significantly lower haemoglobin concentration than their counterparts in Ladakh


A study undertaken by CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology has shown that the blood parameters in Tibetans living in Bylakuppe in Karnataka are significantly different compared to their high-altitude counterparts. The CCMB study has been recently published in the Journal of Blood Medicine.

Tibetans are one of the oldest high-altitude inhabitants in the world and are known to have genetic and physiological factors that help them endure low-oxygen conditions. However, their population has now moved to low-altitude regions such as Karnataka.

Dr Thangaraj and his team at the CSIR-CCMB studied changes in physiological factors of Tibetans who now inhabit the low-altitude regions. In this study, physiological factors of the people of the Tibetan ethnicity from various regions in the high altitudes of Ladakh , were compared with those inhabiting in the Tibetan settlements in Bylakuppe, Karnataka at an altitude of around 850 meters. The population in Karnataka had migrated from Tibet following the Tibetan uprising in 1959 and its aftermath.

Blood parameters

The Tibetan migrants have been in Karnataka for the last 50 years. The researchers found the blood parameters in Tibetans in Karnataka, to be significantly different when compared to their high-altitude counterparts. “We found that the red blood cells, haemoglobin concentration and hematocrit are significantly lower in the low-altitude Tibetans. Their haemoglobin levels are much closer to those living on the plains than the other Tibetans who live above 4500 meters,”says Nipa Basak, the first author of the study.

“Our study suggests that, when Tibetan people reside in non-native, low-altitude, area for a long time, their body undergoes various adaptations to cope with the relatively hyperoxic environment in low-altitude areas,” says Dr. K Thangaraj, the lead investigator of this study, and presently Director of the DBT-Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad.

Earlier studies had shown that among the Tibetan population, those with lower haemoglobin concentration have better reproductive fitness in women and exercise capacity among men. “It would be interesting to explore exercise capacity and reproductive fitness in Tibetans leaving in lower lying areas. It will also be worthwhile noting how long these changes persist, if the Tibetan inhabited in Karnataka migrates back to high-altitude places,” adds Thangaraj.

“Such population-based studies conducted by CCMB help us in understanding adaptation in people who migrate to different environments from a molecular point of view,”says Dr. VM Tiwari, Director in-charge, CCMB.

This work was done in collaboration with researchers from Ladakh and Karnataka. This includes Dr Tsering Norboo, from Ladakh Institute of Prevention, Ladakh, and Dr. MS Mustak from Mangalore University, Karnataka.

Published on May 21, 2021

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